May 20, 2022 | Blog

Addressing ATVs

My plan for conscientiously addressing ATVs and dirtbikes here in Ward 1

Hi neighbors, 

As the weather warms up, I hear – sometimes literally – that ATV and dirt bike riding is a major disruptive concern for a lot of us in Ward 1. Beyond a nuisance or safety concern, there is mounting evidence that noise pollution is a public health crisis, especially in urban areas. 

We've researched the issue and have with a plan to address ATVs and dirtbikes, along with city noise more broadly. As always, I welcome your ideas and feedback. 

I’m proud to represent Ward 1, the densest and most diverse ward in DC. When the sun sets, we become the beating heart of the District, from shows at Black Cat and the 9:30 Club to Moechella and go-go on U Street and the bars and entertainment on 18th Street in Adams Morgan (which will be opened up as a weekend pedestrian zone very soon). 

We live where people go out and want to be seen. And this can mean a lot of disruption and conflict for those of us who call these neighborhoods home.

ATVs and dirtbikes are a symptom—one that has seen lots of proposed solutions but little actual success, both here and around the country. Understandably, many residents just want the activity to go away.

To be clear: operating an ATV or dirt bike on DC streets is against the law, and I consistently work with MPD to address this, identifying when and where their riders stop to park on the street or at a gas station. There is also a “Bonu$2Phone Us” program to call or text a tip on one of these vehicles for a $250 reward. These efforts work, but only on the margins.

MPD rightly has a no-chase policy which limits their enforcement options. Last year’s death of Karon Hylton-Brown in a police chase is a reminder of why the no-chase policy is important, especially in an urban area with many potential bystanders. A cat-and-mouse game on District streets is not a safe or effective way to address ATVs and dirtbikes.

Another thing we should be clear on: while there have certainly been injuries and violent incidents associated with ATV and dirtbike riders, there is little evidence of a widespread connection between riders and violent crime.

In fact, for most riders in DC the relationship is just the opposite. This is illuminated well in an NPR profile of DC “Bike Life” by Dee Dwyer:

“One reason I decided to document this culture is because there is a gap of mutual understanding between lawmakers and the bike enthusiasts. This bike life culture is also often misconstrued as dangerous, but the bikers say they are misunderstood… The phrase 'Bikes Up, Guns Down' is repeated by Bike Life supporters. Their message is to encourage people to ride bikes instead of having gun violence in the community.”

This does not minimize the fact that the activity is still prohibited, nor is it any consolation to residents’ loss of sleep. But it is an important thing to keep in mind as we address this issue – that with limited exceptions, ATVs are not a symptom of something worse.

An idea that is often brought up is to create a dedicated space for riders. I think this is good thinking, but not something that should be approached uncritically. This is not a “build it and they will come” situation, and I think it could be a waste of resources if we built a dedicated space without connecting with riders and that community.

For riders, it’s clear that part of the appeal is performance – and it’s hard to argue that 14th and U doesn’t provide a large audience. Putting a track somewhere out of sight may miss a large part of why riders come to our ward in the first place and risk not resolving the issue. In our research and conversations with peers across the country, we found an effort in Cleveland to build a dirt bike track that was scrapped, and a similar story in Baltimore. Both seemed to be solutions in search of a problem, with little connection to whether riders were interested. They're good reminders that we must be thoughtful and collaborative in our approach.

This is my plan for conscientiously addressing ATVs and dirtbikes here in Ward 1:

  • Continue to enforce and impound vehicles that are prohibited on DC roads without violating the no-chase policy. I do not want to divert significant police resources away from concentrating on our gun violence crisis, but it needs to be clear that the status quo is not acceptable.

  • Fund and coordinate outreach to riders and the DC Bike Life community to close that “gap of mutual understanding between lawmakers and the bike enthusiasts.” This is underway—this year I initiated work with the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Gun Violence prevention to coordinate outreach, education, and mediation on safe riding that reduces incidents of violence and creates less disruption. This work will mirror other successful engagement work in Ward 1, like the dedicated outreach workers I funded in Columbia Heights Civic Plaza to reduce violence and substance abuse. Despite only starting in January, that staff has very quickly developed trusted relationships with many of the men who frequent the plaza.

  • Equipped with better information and an enhanced level of trust, develop new policies and investments to reduce disruptive noise and activity from ATVs and dirtbikes through dedicated space, sanctioned hours or other demonstrated strategies.

  • Site and build dedicated space for riding, as appropriate and in collaboration with riders.

  • I would consider creating a program like the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Youth Basketball Championships, which “help decrease violent incidents and reduce anti-social behavior while strengthening community involvement.” With the right strategy, we can turn ATVs from a disruption into another tool in our toolbelt to address violent crime.

To complement this strategy, I introduced the Harmonious Living Act, which seeks to address quality-of-life issues along nightlife and entertainment corridors. Among other measures, the bill would:

  • Set first-of-its-kind standards for soundproofing in new residential buildings, with higher standards in entertainment districts;

  • Create incentive programs to retrofit older buildings with improved soundproofing; and

  • Establish best practices for public performances, with tools like band shells that direct sound away from buildings.

I hope this helps shine a light on my approach to policy and strategy to address an issue that has confounded DC and other cities for a long time. As always, please reach out to me and my office to provide ideas and feedback — or to join us and be a part of this effort.